Obituary: Civic watchdog Brooks Truitt, 89, championed historical preservation

05/20/2014 5:31 PM

05/20/2014 5:32 PM

Brooks Truitt, a longtime midtown Sacramento resident and influential civic watchdog who was a vocal advocate for historical preservation, died May 18 of a heart attack. He was 89.

He died about a week after he was hospitalized for back injuries he suffered in a car accident following a seizure while he was driving, his daughter Melissa said.

For many years, Mr. Truitt was an articulate voice in efforts to protect the architectural charm and historical significance of Sacramento’s heritage buildings, landmarks and neighborhoods. Besides serving on the board of the politically active Sacramento Old City Association, he championed preservation and took aim at contrary developers, politicians and bureaucrats as publisher and editor of the association’s Old City Guardian newspaper.

He was active in efforts to restore the downtown train depot, preserve Memorial Auditorium, slow street traffic in midtown and transform the R Street warehouse corridor into a residential neighborhood. Forceful but not overbearing, he spoke out at neighborhood forums and City Council meetings, in the pages of the Guardian and in numerous letters to the editor of The Sacramento Bee.

“Brooks had a way with words,” preservation activist Kay Knepprath said. “He chose his words carefully. He didn’t monopolize a discussion, but he would add to it. He always had something worthwhile to contribute.”

His outspokenness, knowledge about development projects and dedication to the central city made Mr. Truitt an influential figure at City Hall. He pitched the idea to create the city’s planning academy, a program that educates the public about how the planning process works. On Tuesday, the City Council adjourned its weekly meeting in his honor.

“Brooks not only knew things and spoke up – he stepped up and showed up,” former Sacramento Mayor Heather Fargo said. “He got involved in issues and went to meetings and shared ideas. He really cared about the community.”

In recent years, Mr. Truitt gained stature as the central figure in a group of friends who meet daily to drink coffee and chew on issues in the news at the Old Soul Co. cafe in the alley behind 1716 L St. He joked that he was the “old soul” for whom the company was named, prompting the owners to incorporate his likeness in the logo at the Weatherstone cafe on 21st Street.

“Brooks was really the hub” of the coffee group, Old Soul co-owner Tim Jordan said. “He supplied the wit and the wisdom, and people would come to spar with him or to see if he needed anything.”

Born Jan. 21, 1925, in Mill Valley, Brooks Keithly Truitt was raised by an aunt after his parents divorced and his mother died when he was 8. He served in World War II as a radio operator in the Army Air Corps on bombing missions over Hungary, Austria, Italy and Switzerland, where his plane was shot down and he was held as a prisoner of war.

After graduating from UCLA and University of Southern California with degrees in political science and sociology, he earned a credential from the Academy of Certified Social Workers and worked at the Watts Multiservice Center following the 1964 riots in Los Angeles. He moved to Sacramento in 1978 and worked in the food stamps program at the California Department of Social Services. He retired in 1987.

Mr. Truitt, who was active in the civil rights movement in the 1960s, was fearless in sharing his opinions. In 2003, he was the only business owner who attached his name – and e-mail address – to messages opposing the Gulf War that ran on billboards around Sacramento and in full-page ads in The Bee and other local newspapers.

He received more than 100 responses from supporters and opponents, and he answered each one.

“Our aim is to start people thinking,” he told The Bee. “And guess what? It’s working.”

Mr. Truitt had two daughters, Melissa Truitt and Lauren Wayne, from a marriage that ended in divorce. In addition to his children, he is survived by four grandchildren.

A gathering of friends in his memory is set for 4 p.m. June 4 at the Capital Area Development Authority courtyard, 1322 O St., Sacramento.

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